There’s a secret party going on in Tarifa, and it doesn’t need wind. Hints of it can be found at shops like AOS and Sailboards Tarifa or parked outside the cafes and bars on windless days caked in dust and mud screaming of good times not far away. And it’s no surprise when you consider the surrounding geography. Those hills have trails. Miles and miles of trails. Mountain biking trails.
For hundreds of years the heavily wooded hills of the hinterland fringing the Straight of Gibraltar have provided cork to the world. Forests of oak trees gnarled and skewed by the wind have been harvested of their spongy bark by knife wielding, donkey riding Andalusian campesinos. With the advent of plastics has come a drop in demand for cork and whilst the harvesting still occurs, the donkeys no longer tread the paths.
Replacing the hoofs of donkeys, more often than not, are the tyres of mountain bikes. Single track mountain biking is a blossoming sport and the hills above Tarifa, thanks to history, have no shortage of single-track trails. Weather you are into Cross Country, Down Hill or Enduro, these hills have a little something for everyone.
For the Cross Country people there are a myriad of fire trails (senderos) and old main roads that snake up, over, around and across the country. From the old highway that follows the Straight of Gibraltar from Tarifa, around to Algeciras, to the many and varied paved and semi paved civil war trails, there are literally hundreds of kilometres of trails.
For the Down Hill junkies the range is not so wide but the quality is high. The Antenas – Alacranes – Pumori descends from 850m at the highest point of the Parque Natural los Alcornocarles. Views from the top, on a clear winter’s day, can see the snow capped peaks of Morocco’s Atlas Mountains. Locals have been working on this trail for several years and there are steep sections of open scree, berms, jumps, forested single track and plenty of tree/rock/creek combinations to cause havoc and breakage. The Antenas has a paved road to the peak and is easy enough for driver-assisted lifts.
Trending at the moment amongst the Down Hillers and Enduro riders is the newly opened and much worked on Buddha trail beginning at the crest of La Pena and easily accessed by road along the windmill roads. This trail has spectacular views of Tarifa, Morocco, Playa Los Lances and Valdevaqueros. Check it out here https://vimeo.com/129148170
The riders getting the most out of this party are the Enduro crew. With the right mix of switch back fire trails for the steady climbs and touched up single track through cork forest, along coastal cliffs or steep mountain scree the range is both challenging and varied. Favourites amongst the locals involve variations of discussed down hill routes and assorted add-ons and secret circuits.
The out-and-back coastal single track from Tarifa to Guadalmesi can be ridden as hard and dangerous as you choose along 50ft cliffs, gulleys, culverts, creek crossings, scree, cow pads, goat tracks, rock, sand and gravel. The trail continues from Guadalmesi up into the ridges and valleys that separate Algeciras from Tarifa.
Not far above Guadalmesi and below Pelayo is Cortijo La Hoya, a perfect base for MTB operations. With it’s infinity pool and view of the Straight of Gibraltar and Riff Mountains, old world Spanish architecture and warm Andalusian hospitality, Cortijo La Hoya offers quiet respite and splendid isolation amidst the trails of Parque Natural los Alcornocarles.
Next time you head to Spain, remember that Tarifa is not just about the wind. There’s gold in those hills, mountain biking gold. And whilst the party has started and there’s a solid collection of established trails, there’s plenty more to be discovered. Get some.
For best, up-to-date intel on trails and times, check out www.strava.com